The Owen Warlassies had only three players on the floor returning from last year’s season when they tipped off the season against North Henderson last week. But that’s not to say the 12-player roster is inexperienced.
The return of three of the team’s top-four scorers from a season ago will help mitigate the loss of eight seniors. Longtime head coach Tim Raines believes athleticism will be his team’s calling card for years to come.
Sophomores Ashley Valencia and Demetria Graves were key components of last year’s 8-14 team. Valencia appeared in 21 of the Warlassies’ 22 games, while Graves was on the floor for all of them. The duo accounted for around 40 percent of Owen’s total offense.
The two sophomores will be joined on the floor by senior Taylor Lovci, whose ability to shoot the three-pointer made her a viable scoring option for Owen last year as a junior.
The only other senior on the roster for the Warlassies this season is Livie Presley, who played five games as a sophomore for the team in 2013 before missing her entire junior season with a knee injury.
“We’re a young team,” said Raines, entering his 22nd season on the sideline for the Warlassies. “We’re small and young, but this team has a lot of impressive athleticism.”
Valencia was named the school’s female athlete of the year last spring after excelling in several varsity sports as a freshman. Her experience at the point guard position on the basketball team last season gave her a better idea what to expect as this campaign gets underway.
“The speed of the game is so much faster,” she said. “I learned a lot last year about how to be prepared for the games and how to work together with my teammates on the court.”
Valencia will have to develop a sense of timing with fellow sophomore Kendal Marlowe, who will likely play significant minutes in the same backcourt.
Marlowe, who transferred to Owen from Erwin prior to the school year, was not entirely unfamiliar with her new teammates when she arrived at the gym for her first practice with the Warlassies.
“I play travel ball with a lot of the girls on the team, so that’s how I know a lot of them,” she said. “That’s where a lot of our connection comes from.”
The young team’s familiarity with one another will likely be relied upon heavily - to give his most athletic players space to operate, Raines plans to use an offensive attack that relies on ball screens and motion. To make up for the height that left with last year’s seniors, Raines will base the team’s defense on his quick, active players.
“We don’t have a lot of size, but I don’t really care about that,” Raines said. “I can’t put five guards out there that will press you from the time you get off of the bus.”
Figuring to fit well into Raines’ system is Chesney Gardner, an athletic freshman who will see time at forward and center for the Warlassies. Having spent the fall as an impact player on the volleyball team, Gardner feels well prepared for the pressures of playing on the varsity level.
“I play travel ball with these players, so I’ve played with Ashley (Valencia). And I’ve played with all of them,” she said. “It feels right playing on the varsity team.”
Gardner provides a defensive presence to protect the rim down low. But her offensive skill set will likely present challenges for opposing defenses.
“I’m a little bit bigger than everyone else on the team,” she said. “But I like getting the ball, and I like going against people and competing. I played guard when I was younger, so it will be a little harder for other post players to guard me because I can dribble and score.”
Gardner scored 13 points during a victory against North Henderson in the season opener for the Warlassies, while Graves scored 18. Valencia and Marlowe combined for 14 assists. Graves scored 16 in the Warlassies opener against Reynolds, who won 62-47.